Monthly Archives: November 2011

Lovely Leftovers and my Cookbook of the Week

My favorite holiday has come and gone, but I had a lovely time celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends. I roasted my turkey and made my stuffing in quite traditional ways, and friends provided a lovely assortment of sides (including the most sinful, creamy mashed sweet potatoes and beautiful, Indian-spiced roast parsnips). I pushed the boat out with my dessert this year though, and I don’t mind saying that I even impressed myself by making a pumpkin meringue pie.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie

Pumpkin Meringue Pie

I have to make a confession now…I subscribe to Martha Stewart Living.  I know, I know.  I have a real love/hate relationship with the publication, because it does portray an aspirational lifestyle to the point of the ridiculous. As it arrives in my post box every month, I mock Martha for her ridiculous calendar entries (‘Confirm appointment with piano tuner’ ‘Vacuum wallpaper’) and then I drool over the crafting projects and recipes. There are always particularly creative ideas around the holidays, and I especially love the November and December issues. As soon as I saw the photo of this Pumpkin Meringue Pie I knew I had to try it, and as no one was likely to make it for me, I was going to have to bake it myself!  I’m glad that I gave it a shot, but I don’t know if I’d do it again. The pros were: a visually stunning result, a change from the norm, an excuse to use my hand held blow torch, and of course, a tasty dessert. Cons included meringue panic (why did it take so long for the whites to stiffen?!?!?!?), pastry panic (why is the pastry sticking to the tin?!?!?!?) and a lack of leftovers (The meringue melted overnight, making the last few slices very soggy and inedible).

The last con is probably my most serious concern, as I LOVE Thanksgiving & Christmas leftovers. Waking up the morning after a big feast makes me giddy with excitement…despite the fact that hours earlier I was moaning that I’d never eat again, I skip down to the fridge to invent new things from the legs of turkey, piles of mash, bits of stuffing, and cold roast veg left in the fridge. Black Friday Breakfast is almost as good as Thanksgiving Dinner…I love making crispy potatoes cakes by chopping up the dregs of the fresh herbs and roast veg hanging around the fridge, mixing them into some leftover mashed potato, shaping them into cakes and coating them with seasoned flour.  I fry them in butter for a few minutes on each side and top them with poached eggs.  Then, of course, there’s soup made from Turkey Stock, turkey curry, turkey pot pie, and the old reliable turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sandwich. We should be finished our leftovers by the middle of this week…just in time to start thinking about Christmas dinner!

When the turkey is finally gone, I’ll be turning to Rachel Allen for my recipes this week, and exploring her new book, Easy Meals. I have a pretty hectic week coming up, so there won’t be a lot of lingering around the kitchen waiting for things to braise…the 30 minute meal will be my friend. I’ve taken a peek already, and there are such delights as Chicken Skewers with Carrot & Apple Salad, Tomato & Goats Cheese Tart, and Prawn Korma. It’s definitely chock full of recipes that one could make after a quick trip to the shop on the way home and fifteen minutes in the kitchen.  I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the recipes, but for tonight, I have pure convenience on my mind…Turkey Curry with a sauce from Bombay Pantry, the takeaway of all takeaways…

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Meatless Mondays

In advance of one of the biggest meat-eating holidays on my calendar (hooray, Thanksgiving!) I thought that I would write about some of my veggie efforts. Whilst on maternity leave a few years ago, I came a customer of Home Organics, a local produce delivery service.  I thought that I’d keep the delivery for a few months when on leave and that it might fall by the wayside once I returned to work.  Instead, I became an absolute addict, and one of Home Organics’ biggest cheerleaders. Every Thursday morning, I get a delivery of beautiful, organic, seasonal fruit & vegetables as well as free range, organic eggs. Amazing. Produce is sourced as locally as possible and is delicious; the apples and satsumas we’re getting at the minute are brilliant, and I love the ever-changing selection of greens that pop up, from kale rainbow chard in the winter to rocket and cima di rapa in the summer.  There are weekly appearances from potatoes, carrots and onions, as well as fairly regular portions of broccoli, bananas, and lovely garlic.  Everything else varies with the season; some recent delights featured were celeriac, red cabbage, baby butternut squash, and quince – autumn at its finest!

Getting a random, weekly delivery has changed the way I think about making dinner.  Rather than automatically thinking about meat as the centre piece of the meal, and vegetables as an afterthought, I often take a look at what vegetables we have and how best I might accompany them. Sometimes, it means pairing some lovely, big baking potatoes with a lamb chop, but more and more often, it leads me to planning at least one meatless meals every week, as suggested by the growing Meatless Monday movement. I’m not always organized enough to have it on Mondays, and I will admit to frequently adding a sausage to my son’s plate to keep him interested, but my husband and I do have at least one meatless meal every week. Here are a few recent winners: Fried Eggs, Greens & MushroomsVegetable Coconut Curry, and Beetroot Rosti.

If I’m looking for veggie inspiration, I often look no further than Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso. I think he’s a genius chef; I love his restaurant and his recipes. Wild Garlic, Gooseberries, and Me is one of my favorite food books. It’s chock full of recipes, memories, and general food knowledge. If you find yourself with a bit of time on your hands and a craving for seriously good veggie food, and I can’t say enough about his recipe for Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Oyster Mushroom Broth with Pumpkin Dumplings – it is something truly special. If you don’t want to go all out and fuss around with dumplings, the soup on it’s own is delicious – I did not expect to find such beautiful flavor in a meat-free broth, but it really is gorgeous.  I generally make a double batch of the broth and keep some in the fridge as it is such a good winter warmer – lovely to have a mug of it with lunch.

Happy peeling, chopping, and cooking!

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Happiness is a Warm Risotto

Leek & Tarragon Risotto

As the evenings grow longer and colder, I love to pour myself a glass of wine and spend time in my cozy kitchen.  Sometimes, I have the time to mess around with something posh, like the quail I tried a few weeks ago, or the venison stew I’m planning for the weekend.  Other nights, I just about manage to whip up a pasta sauce.  Risotto is, for me, a lovely happy medium of simplicity, cooking therapy, and deliciousness.  I read a lot of recipes for ‘baked; or ‘no-stir’ risotto and I always despair.  For me, the beauty of risotto is the zen-like nature of its cooking process.  I love the ritual of constant stirring and ladling hot stock into bubbling rice – glass of wine in my left hand, wooden spoon in the other. Bliss. On a practical level, it’s also a great way to use up some bits and pieces in the fridge. Last night’s risotto was leek and tarragon, because I’m trying to use up all of the veg that’s hanging around before I get my next delivery from the brilliant Home Organics on Thursday.

Leek & Tarragon Risotto

(serves 2 adults and a briefly curious toddler)

– 200 g. arborio rice

– 2 leeks, trimmed, well-rinsed, and finely sliced

-500ml stock *

-1 glass of dry, white wine

– 30g butter, preferably unsalted

-big hunk of parmigiano reggiano/grana padano

-sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

– a few decent-sized stalks of fresh tarragon, chopped

 *I used homemade chicken stock from last weekend’s Sunday lunch, but I also love Knorr Stock Pots, chicken or veg

Method: 

Heat your stock in a small saucepan.  It doesn’t need to be boiling, but it should be quite hot. Melt the butter in a large pan and gently saute the leeks for 8-10 minutes over a low heat.  When the white bit of the leeks start to turn translucent, tip in your rice and stir for a minute or two, making sure that each grain is coated in butter. Turn the heat up a little bit, throw in the glass of wine (pour another for yourself!) and start stirring.  As the rice absorbs the wine and the pan is almost dry, add a ladle full of hot stock.  Keeping stirring, and each time the pan seems dry again, ladle in some more stock. By the time you’re out of stock, the rice should be al dente. Turn the heat way down, grate in your cheese (don’t be shy but taste as you grate – I think risotto’s cheesiness is a personal thing ), stir in your tarragon and taste again before seasoning with sea salt and adding a few cracks of black pepper. Dinner is done!

Pecan & Bourbon Tart

Espresso Bundt Cake

I didn’t make any brioche  last week, and I definitely didn’t make any croissants, but I still celebrated my birthday week with a lot of cake!  Aside from the Rocky Road cake delivered to me on my birthday eve, I made a pecan pie and an espresso bundt cake as per Sarabeth’s recipes. I’m not sure that I’ll be applying for any pastry chef jobs any time soon, but I did learn a few things…

  1.  Always  taste  your batter/filling before you bake.  You may realize that you’ve forgotten the sugar. (Yes, I caught it in time!)
  2. When blind baking pastry, remember to line the  tin with parchment before pouring in the baking beans.  Otherwise, you will have to pick about a hundred of them out of partially cooked pastry. (This odious task takes about 20 minutes and makes you feel pretty dumb!)
  3. Baking can be an expensive habit, especially if you want to invest in the proper tools – proper tins, mixers, etc.  I managed with my hand mixer, but it was a challenge and involved doing a lot of washing up.  I’ll be buying  this about five minutes after I win the lotto.
  4. The moment when a cake pops effortlessly our of a tin or a tart reveals it’s crispy crust and gooey filling is immensely satisfying; sharing it with friends is even better! Because of this fact, I’ll be participating in The Great Irish Bake over the coming weeks, and would encourage anyone to give it a go.  Have some friends around for a cuppa, impress them with some home baking, and raise money for Temple Street Children’s Hospital.  The website has some great recipes, and I’d be happy to share suggestions as well if you’re interested.

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The Butcher Girl

So, the most exciting foodie news this week for me was the return of MasterChef: The Professionals on BBC2.  (And to think I almost missed it, but for a kindly text from a fellow foodie friend letting me know it was starting!  Note to BBC: next year, more advance publicity!) I think it is the absolute highest form of cooking entertainment  – yes, even better than the original MasterChef and even surpassing Saturday Kitchen (my Saturday morning TV time has largely been handed over to Peppa Pig these days anyway, sniff, sniff!)  I love everything about MasterChef: the Professionals though, from Monica’s horrified expressions to Greg’s ‘orgasmic pudding face’ and Michel Roux Jr.’s avuncular tutelage…I can only imagine that cooking for him and hearing the words,’ Well, it’s not quite right…’ must be the most crushing thing a professional chef can do.  As the nights grow longer, I will be extracting great pleasure from wrapping my hands around a hot mug of tea, steeling into the couch, and firing up the DVR for big helpings of fine dining drama.

In other news, my husband drew my attention to this article in last week’s New York Times.  I love the NYT’s dining section, and highly recommend poking around the website if you’re ever looking for inspiration (I always find particular joy in Mark Bittman’s video podcasts).  This particular article, however, is more about shopping for food than cooking, as it notes the ‘trend’ of shopping at your local butcher’s shop.  It made me think how lucky I am to be living in a city where going to the butcher isn’t seen to be specialty shopping, or a particularly elite activity.  It’s very easy to ignore all of the plastic wrapped meat at the supermarket and head a few doors down to a top class butcher who can give you the names of the farmers he does business with, and, in some cases, the name of the cow! I have a great relationship with three Dublin butchers who keep me very well supplied with pretty much any protein a girl could want, so I thought I’d take a moment to give them credit.

The first is O’Toole’s Butchers in Terenure village.  The first organic butcher in Ireland, this family business is a top class spot. They’ve been supplying me with fabulous Christmas turkeys since 2004 and their garlic chicken en croute is a lovely solution to the quick dinner dilemma.  Second is the butcher counter at Fallon & Byrne, which stocks meat from the happiest pigs in Ireland.  Their pork steak is absolutely perfect  (click here for some great recipe ideas – it makes a brilliant weeknight dinner) and their breakfast sausages are a staple in my house.  In addition, all of the butchers there are great for advice on cooking times and recipe ideas, and there’s a lovely wine cellar right downstairs – the ultimate in one stop shopping!  Now, I’ve saved the best for last – Lawlor’s Butchers in Rathmines is a true foodie paradise.  From the lamb shank to the rib eye steaks to the stuffed pork shoulders, this is THE place to find a Sunday roast.  They also have a fish counter, fresh bread delivered daily, and a loyalty card scheme – all pure genius. I could write about their beautiful lamb marinades, gorgeous free-range Irish chickens, and brilliant T-bones for pages, but really, Dubliners – GET IN THERE and experience it for yourselves.  Non-Dubs, well, you’ll just have to visit – I promise you a Sunday roast that will keep you happy for days.

Now that you’re all craving a juicy steak, I’ll leave you with this happy little clip from the aforementioned Mark Bittman Minimalist series:

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Cookbook of the Week, 7 November

I’ve decided to up the ante this week and try a more ambitious cookbook.  I have a few freezer meals ready and waiting, so this week, I’m going to focus on some baking.  My birthday is this week, so I figure that it’s a good week to get stuck in and eat some cake!

To quote pretty much every Masterchef contestant, ‘Pastry isn’t really my strong point’, so I have a challenge ahead.  Last Christmas, I received a fabulous parcel from a mysterious address in New York. ‘423 Amsterdam Avenue?’ I thought to myself. A quick Google search reminded me that it is the address of one of my favorite places on earth: Sarabeth’s West.  My genius mother had arranged for for the brunch mecca of the Upper West Side to send me a care package: a selection of petite jams & jellies, mouth-watering hot chocolate mix, and the the most gorgeous cookbook. I am ashamed to say that 11 months later, I have done nothing with the book except drool over its gorgeous photos and nurse a case of nostalgia for my college days of long, lazy brunches with my girlfriends.  This week though, I’m going to take the bull by the horns, break out my bundt pan and piping nozzles and bake, bake, bake.  (And hope I receive a lot of invitations to friend’s houses, as I should not be left alone with too much cake!)

My plan is to start off with something relatively simple (a lovely-looking espresso cake) and move into a higher realm as the week progresses. I’d like to try some breakfast pasty, but I’ve just read the recipes for croissant and danish pastries, and they scared the life out of me, but maybe I’ll manage some brioche.

 

 

 

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Is it local?

It’s a rare day when I’m not in some sort of shop to buy food, whether I’ve been corralled into the newsagent’s to buy a packet of crisps for my son, or pop into the butcher for a chat and a chicken breast and leave with a five pound roast instead.  This week, as I’ve gone on my food buying travels, I can’t stop thinking about the program I watched on Monday night, a re-play of RTE’s documentary What’s Ireland Eating? presented by Philip Boucher-Hayes.  Now, I’ve been known to moan about RTE in the past (particularly in the realm of sports commentary…) but I think they do factual programming really well and this show is a prime example.  Irish residents who missed the show can watch it here.

Boucher-Hayes starts with the micro by examining the facts and figures associated with the average Irish shopping trolley (man, we eat a lotta pork) and moves to the macro by exploring the effects of Irish consumer choices on the economy.  There were a lot of figures and health warnings thrown around, but the program was hardly devoid of emotion – especially when we meet Nigel Renaghan, the county Monaghan chicken farmer whose family is entirely dependent on the current market price of Irish chicken, which is constantly being driven down by imports.  The takeaway message of the program is pretty simple and makes a lot of sense for your health and for the economy: make like a character on Portlandia and keep it local!  It might cost and extra euro here or there, but it’s worth it.

Here are a few suggestions for those intersted in consuming Irish chicken, not just as a cook, but also when dining out:

– It’s probably the American in me, but I can’t get enough of CrackBird. Great for lunch with the girls or late night nibbles. I dream about the soy garlic chicken, all sourced from Ireland.

– I also love the very family-friendly Hen House in Dun Laoghaire. A bracing walk on the pier, fresh sea air, and free-range Irish buttermilk chicken tenders – bliss!

– For value, I think Supervalu is fantastic…they sell a whole, free-range Irish chicken for €8 – brilliant.  They also sell lots of chicken from Cootehill Farms, which is, I believe, where CrackBird sources its chicken.  I can get three meals out of a whole chicken, especially since I got a good set of knives and learned to joint one myself.

And once you’ve bought that lovely chicken and filled your home with it’s gorgeous roast chicken smell (better than perfume, I think!) here’s a recipe for your leftovers from my Cookbook of the Week, Economy Gastronomy. I love Allegra McEvedy’s Arroz con Pollo because it’s a one pot wonder, it has fantastic Spanish-inspired flavours, and is a brilliant use of leftovers. Also, I’m a sucker for any recipe that lists beer as an ingredient.  Happy cooking!

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Cookbook of the Week, October 31

Part of my motivation for starting this blog is to get out of my cookbook rut. I own zillions of cookbooks (I’m too scared to actually count, lest I realize how much money I’ve spent…) but I can fall into the awful habit of only cooking from the two or three for weeks on end – books that have family favourites or ’30 minute meals’.  That’s all well and good – don’t get me wrong, a working mama needs 30 minute meals – but I’d like to challenge myself a bit more. So, for the next few months, I’m going to pick one book every week and use it to do my weekly menu planning.

I’m starting simple this week with an old favourite, Economy Gastronomy, by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m feeling a bit broke this week, or because I love some of it’s warming recipes for this damp weather, but it holds a lot of appeal for me this week.  I don’t know which came first, the book or the TV program, but I bought this book two years ago after watching the series of the same name on BBC. In the program, McEvedy and Merrett work with a cooking-impaired family every week and encourage them to ‘eat better and spend less’ by shopping smartly, ditching ready-meals, and cooking at home.  Brilliant.  The show had a light touch, never making fun of any participants for their lacking of cooking experience – it just aimed to educate  and, of course, tempt reluctant cooks with it’s lovely, affordable recipes…

One of my favourites is Paul Merret’s recipe for Braised Mince; it’s actually three recipes in one, as well as freezer-friendly and very easy on the wallet – woohoo!  I’ve used it as a base for Shepherd’s Pie, Spaghetti Bolognese and Chili, as well as just eaten it spooned over a baked potato. Generally, I make a batch and divide it in three.  One gets eaten on the day, and the other two go into the freezer for when I want a quick meal – usually Shepherd’s Pie, as the whole family will eat it.  I find that rather than putting more carrots into the pie, making a potato & carrot mash gets better results from the little guy…give him a piece of carrot and it’s akin to poison; give him ‘orange mash’ and it’s a treat!

The recipe for Spicy Black Bean Quesadillas is one of my favourite pantry suppers, as there is always a tin of black beans somewhere in the back of the cupboard, and it’s easy to pick up a bit of lime and coriander on the way home.  I rarely bother with the pumpkin seeds, and often make a quick salsa instead of the chopped avocado (it can be so hard to find ripe ones sometimes…), but the classic combination of black beans, cheddar cheese, and tortillas always wins in my house.

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